Tuesday 1 December 2015

Encouraging Your Child's Imaginative Play

I'll make a confession to you and I'm sure I'm not the only parent who feels this way but I really dislike having to play make believe with my children.

I know, I'm terrible, right? I just find it so boring. I am a realist and I'd much rather be doing something that my logic says is worthwhile and is achieving something. You know, perhaps crafting some cards, baking cakes or going for a ramble.

But the research shows how important it is to encourage your children to take part in imaginative play. A key article in Psychology Today cites benefits such as increased creativity, enhanced empathy, your child gaining an understanding that others thoughts differ to their own, advanced language skills developing and even a reduction in aggression to name just a few of the major plus points.

It is for this reason that whilst I don't really like make-believe I will get involved with it and play. Not every day but then I am very lucky as my youngest are twins and always have each other to play with. I do love the depth of their imaginations, I'm sure I wasn't creating a spa when I was 8 years old. I had to chuckle the other day when I went upstairs to see where the panpipes music was coming from and I found Miss M half undressed on her front with her spa music on the tablet and Miss E was giving her a moosage (her word, not mine!)

They never seem to tire of play ideas, which is good. Miss M is a bit predictable and all hers tend to revolve around reading and writing, so we have a lot of schools and more recently we have been playing libraries, which was always a favourite of mine as a child. Only a few years back my parents got the old Ladybird books out the loft and we found all my old hand drawn library tickets inside them! I think the idea of what to play can be drawn directly from the child's own likes and dislikes but their bedroom or play room can provide a great environment to spark their imagination too.

We are super lucky to live in 220 acres of fabulous grounds and this space is definitely a catalyst for the kids play. Even my 12 year old JJ is happy to join his sisters when they are outside. Our low ropes course sees JJ becoming a Sargent major instructing his new soldiers. The lakes and the nature we have here encourage them to go on a expedition with their binoculars and to fish the waters and the beautiful green grass means they engage in 'sports club' and stay active and fit. Here are a few of their recent explorers photos -

It's great that my kids want to indulge in imaginative play but you might be wondering how to help your kids make-believe more often, so I thought it would be useful if I share with you 6 simple ways to help encourage your child to play imaginatively -

1.  Make sure they have the time to be able to play.  Not every child can just flick a switch in their brain and play make-believe, it takes some practise and a bit of time to get in the habit. Make sure they are not overloaded after school with extra-curricula activities and very school holiday I go through the same process where I allow my kids to get bored. It is once they push through this barrier that the fun really starts and they no longer rely on me to entertain them.

2.  Provide your child with toys that prompt play. You know the kind of things - dolls houses, mini cleaning equipment, a toy cooker, fancy dress clothes, small cars and vehicles. Make sure they know that they can mix and match and that their Sylvanian families can be mixed with the Playmobil and they can all live in a Lego house. Let their imagination go wild.

3.  Allow them to make a mess. This is a tough one for someone like me, but I have learnt that kids have to make a mess to be able to effectively play. If they are scared you will tell them off for dirtying their clothes, or messing the front room they won't work hard to build the den or make the mud pies in the outside kitchen.

4.  Give them space and trust. Obviously this depends on the child's age and level of responsibility but you know your child. It is important that we allow them some physical space and space from our interference so they can create whatever it is that is appealing to them at that time. When we start to show our child that we trust them they really start to develop and excel.

5.  Have tech-free days. If your child can be continually plugged in they will as this required minimal thought and effort but we don't want to create a generation of soulless geeks. It is definitely when I enforce tech-free days that my three children play the best together.

6.  Get involved. This doesn't have to be a full-blown play session, it can be as simple as a suggestion or grabbing their doll and asking baby is she needs a bottle. Just small things that ignite the spark and can set them off down that play avenue make all the difference.

Tell me, what do you do to get your child playing imaginatively?

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